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Inspiration

Making the Cut Season 1, Episode 7: “Digital Marketing Campaign”

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As judge Heidi Klum and mentor Tim Gunn have said repeatedly, Making the Cut is looking for the designer who can design the next global brand. With this “Digital Marketing Campaign” episode in the Amazon Original series, they turned up the heat to see if the designers could take it.

Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum walking toward camera in the rain, each holding a wagasa, or Japanese umbrella, aloft in "Digital Marketing Campaign" episode
Mentor Tim Gunn and judge Heidi Klum welcome onlookers on the runway at the Edo Architectural Museum in Episode 7 of Making the Cut. Photo courtesy of Amazon Corporate.

The challenge

In this episode, the designers had to create two looks for a digital marketing campaign. They also had to choose a location for a photo shoot at the Edo Architectural Museum, Tokyo, and select three images for the campaign, which would include the designer’s brand and slogan. This challenge forced each designer to prove an ability to be a creative director and to direct a photo shoot.

The runway show was at the Edo Architectural Museum, after which the judges returned to the Making the Cut workshop to review the marketing campaign.

Jonny Cota had difficulty focusing on this challenge. As the episode was taped, his new storefront in Los Angeles was hosting its opening party, and he wanted to be there to support them. He was unhappy with one of his fabrics, so he dyed it with espresso shots.

When Tim arrived for Tim Talks, he dispensed unwelcome advice for one of the designers. Ji Won Choi had pushed herself to do eveningwear, per the judges advice in the previous episode, but Tim wondered aloud if it represented her aesthetic. She stood by her looks but her confidence appeared to waver.

The judging

This episode’s judging was based on the designers’ looks on the runway and the strength of their digital marketing campaigns. As there were so few designers left, the judges talked with everyone.

First to be called up was Esther Perbandt. She was inspired by mosquito wings after one died near her workspace. The judges said they liked the androgyny of her looks and stated that they had a clear sense of who she is as a designer. She made the cut.

Next up was Sander Bos. His looks were gender-neutral, the male and female models switching jackets on the runway. The judges loved that he has brought an ah-ha moment each week, but said that his campaign felt slightly disconnected. He made the cut.

Designer defends her campaign

Ji came up to defend her looks. She explained that she wanted to celebrate individuality. The judges liked her dress, but they didn’t love the second look. They said it was too simple and had fitting issues. Naomi said Ji failed in directing the photo shoot because the images did not show garments to their best advantage. Ji did not make the cut.

The judges called up Jonny. His collection focused on capturing rebellious culture. The judges questioned his brand name, Skingraft, and suggested he use an eponymous label instead. However, they loved his collection and felt the photo campaign told a good story.

With Jonny still in the hot seat, the judges brought Megan Smith forward. Her collection was inspired by kimono and obi. The judges said they thought her looks were new and exciting. Naomi criticized Megan’s direction of the photo shoot, but loved the clothes.

A tie

Heidi revealed the dilemma: Megan and Jonny were tied. The judges loved Megan’s clothes but preferred Jonny’s campaign. Both designers had the opportunity to advocate for their looks to secure the win. It felt as if the judges were pushing for a fight; I wasn’t a fan of this approach, but self-advocating is important for a designer. In the end, Jonny was declared the winner.

Male model wearing dark, zippered front jumpsuit with four contrasting oversized pockets
Jonny Cota’s accessible look was a jumpsuit with oversized patch pockets. Image courtesy of Amazon Corporate.
Female model wearing long floral dress with open vest over it
Jonny’s runway look required dyeing the fabric with many espresso shots to achieve the aged color. Image courtesy of Amazon Corporate.

Interview with the “Digital Marketing Campaign” winner

The publicity team for the show has given me access to the winning designer from each episode, for a short interview.

First, I asked Jonny about the location, the Edo Architectural Museum. “When we get out of the vans and we see this beautiful layout of like classic Japanese architecture, it was really inspiring,” he said. “It was really the perfect setting to inspire a photo shoot.”

Jonny enjoyed wandering around the museum to find the perfect backdrop for his digital campaign. “When I found this little edgy alley it felt like a Brooklyn version of a little Tokyo bonsai alley, I was like, this is totally me,” he said. “To be honest, there were a lot of inspiring things but nothing was filling me with joy until I found that alley.”

Real-world distraction

Of course, I had to mention the big strain for him this episode. His eponymous storefront was opening in L.A. with the help of his family and friends. “Being absent from that process was heartbreaking, but to win that challenge was 10 times more sweet because of the timing of the store opening,” he said. “Watching that episode, I was reminded of how fortunate I am to have that support system and how many designers aren’t as fortunate . . . I was bawling my eyes out watching myself cry onscreen.”

The dye job

Jonny pushed himself further this episode to give the judges a good show. “I knew I wanted to do something bold, I knew that floral would be a huge surprise. I looked everywhere for the perfect floral but couldn’t find it. I settled on the one I chose. I immediately knew it wasn’t right . . . and that’s when I dumped it in a bucket full of espresso shots.”

How many shots did it take? He laughed. “I think I pulled about 20 shots of espresso and maybe a box of teabags. I sampled every cup and I was so caffeinated, jumping out of my boots after it,” he recalled.

His espresso-dyeing decision had unintended consequences. “The poor model, she smelled like she just walked out of a coffeehouse the entire time, she just reeked of coffee,” he said. “I didn’t have time to let it dry naturally, I had to throw it into the dryer, so it wasn’t just smelling like coffee; it was smelling like burnt coffee.”

Bolstered by criticism

When it came time for reviewing Jonny’s digital marketing campaign, the judges delivered harsh feedback regarding his brand name, Skingraft. “I’m not afraid of critique or critical feedback,” he said. “I know it’s a complicated name that some people love and some people cringe at, and I’m always hoping to talk about it. But, as they think they’re tearing me down, I’m just counting how many times they say Skingraft on camera.”

He said he likes feedback from the judges, even if it isn’t positive. “I feel strongly that the judges only critique you if they want you to do better. Otherwise, why lose their time? Just send you home. I think every critique is an opportunity and if you’re not being critiqued, you’re not being noticed.”

Jonny grew more confident, I noted, while talking in front of the judges as the season progressed, even though it was over a short period of time. He responded, “I grew up on reality shows and I’ve always watched people grow and thought: ‘Is that produced and manufactured? Did they really grow that fast?’ But every designer on that show, on Making the Cut, really did grow and push past their comfort zones that quickly. I was very shy coming into this competition and by the end I felt like I was the best version of myself.”

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